I am amazed at the severity of the defects that a person can have and still be alive, for some definition of the word, at birth. There are babies without brains, conjoined twins with only one head, babies with their guts on the outside, and they are born alive! They lived in the womb like that for nearly a year! Nature will compensate for anything. Consider sirenomelia, if you dare. I don't find it as disturbing as the notion of being born without a brain -- being born alive without a brain -- but it's still pretty damn disturbing. When a baby is born with sirenomelia, its legs are fused, terminating sometimes in one foot, sometimes in two, turned backward or forward or sometimes just flopping there, half-formed and purplish -- and sometimes there are no feet at all, and the baby just tapers off below the waist. It doesn't much matter, because babies with sirenomelia (also called "mermaid syndrome," which is disgusting but appropriate, and all the more disgusting because it's appropriate) always die within a couple of weeks. Most of them die within twenty-four hours. It's amazing that they even live that long, because they don't usually have any kidneys, or external genitalia, or an anus. These are people who cannot excrete, and yet they are born alive!
What's it like to be a anencephalic, I wonder, floating around in the womb? If you've got a brain stem, what does it register? What's it like to be a sirenomeliac, with a perfectly formed brain, floating around in there? Do you realize that something is terribly wrong?
Medical history records one instance of a sirenomeliac surviving infancy. Her name is Tiffany Yorks (not to be confused with porn starlet Tiffany York), and I have seen pictures of her, beaming, after a series of surgeries at the Shriners Hospital in Tampa. They gave her a new leg, as well as, apparently, new kidneys, external genitalia, and an anus: they would have had to build her an entire bottom half, and then graft it onto the top half she already had. She's thirteen years old now. They featured her on "Miracle Babies II."
My mind reels when I consider Tiffany Yorks. Everyone else who has ever had her disorder died shortly after birth, if they lived to be born at all. She seems to me like an emissary from some country we know nothing about, the Sultanate of the Morbidly Defective. One in every sixty thousand live births is a sirenomeliac (2.7 males for every female, for no known reason): even if you don't consider all the stillbirths and spontaneous abortions, that's a staggering number of people throughout history. Each of them had genes that would have translated into a personality, had he or she not winked out. And of all these people, only Tiffany has made it across.
By definition, most things that can happen don't happen. There are too many possibilities: the vast majority of them wink out. The amazing thing is that anything happens at all, there's so damn much noise. And things are happening constantly. How can this be? Is everything and everyone in the whole of creation an emissary from the Sultanate of Untranspired Events? And if so, how did we make it across?
At around four in the morning, the universe seems a lot bigger.